Nel's New Day

March 30, 2020

People Dying in U.S. from Dunning-Helzer Effect

COVID-19 has made another celebrity, perhaps the person who Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) followed in his misguided foot-dragging that is killing thousands of people. Richard Epstein, a lawyer at the conservative Hoover Institution, predicted in a mid-March column that the world would see only about 50,000 death with about 500 in the U.S. He did correct his predicted U.S. number of deaths to his March 23 column, originally 500, to 5,000. He called governors’ numbers “hysterical and sloppy” because New York had only 122 deaths in the nine days following March 14. In the nine days, 1,220 more people died.

On March 23, the day that Epstein published his misguided column, DDT said that he would probably stop efforts to block the virus on Easter, “a beautiful day.” DDT’s close conservative associates and officials had been circulating the column called “Coronavirus Perspective” which played down the disease’s threat. Epstein is not a virologist, not an epidemiologist, and not a physician.

Epstein tried to make up for his error—500 deaths instead of 5,000 deaths—by granting an interview to Isaac Chotiner for the New Yorker. A defense for his major blunder, which sent up a red flag about his abilities, was to say, “The question to ask, Isaac, is not whether I chose the right number but whether I had the right model.” Chotiner’s article points out a series of errors in Epstein’s mistakes.

Epstein has no understanding of COVID-19. He claimed that “a strong version of the virus” will kill everybody who is “fragile and old. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of the infectious-diseases division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said no evidence shows “that there are strong and weak variations of the coronavirus circulation.”

Epstein has no basic understanding of how the virus is transmitted. He assumed that people who died at the Washington nursing center “probably” received “large doses” of the virus through “hugging and kissing.” He used these deaths for his model. Albert Ko, professor of epidemiology and medicine and the department chair at the Yale School of Public Health, responded, “There is no evidence that you have a higher risk of dying from contact from someone in the facility than if you had contact from some other source.”

Epstein has no understanding that deaths almost immediately stop from “an evolutionary tendency.” He said that a “change in genetic viral behavior” along with changes in human behavior would lead to an “adaptation,” altering the course of the virus. Failure to consider the “adaptation” led to governors’ overreaction to the virus’s possible impact. Ko said, “There is absolutely no evidence for [an evolutionary tendency]…. To the extent we see that evolution taking place it is usually over a much vaster timescale.”

Epstein doesn’t know that some viruses don’t weaken over time. Ko said, “We did not see SARS or Ebola weaken over time. It is only appropriate public-health measures or vaccines that have helped to control those epidemics.”

Epstein’s methodology and conclusions lack any evidence or proof. The concluding dialog of the interview:

Chotiner: I know, but these are scientific issues here.

[Epstein]: You know nothing about the subject but are so confident that you’re going to say that I’m a crackpot.

No. Richard—

That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it? That’s what you’re saying?

I’m not saying anything of the sort.

Admit to it. You’re saying I’m a crackpot.

I’m not saying anything of the—

Well, what am I then? I’m an amateur? You’re the great scholar on this?

No, no. I’m not a great scholar on this.

Tell me what you think about the quality of the work!

O.K. I’m going to tell you. I think the fact that I am not a great scholar on this and I’m able to find these flaws or these holes in what you wrote is a sign that maybe you should’ve thought harder before writing it.

What it shows is that you are a complete intellectual amateur. Period.

O.K. Can I ask you one more question?

You just don’t know anything about anything. You’re a journalist. Would you like to compare your résumé to mine?

No, actually, I would not.

Then good. Then maybe what you want to do is to say, “Gee, I’m not quite sure that this is right. I’m going to check with somebody else.” But, you want to come at me hard, I am going to come back harder at you. And then if I can’t jam my fingers down your throat, then I am not worth it. But you have basically gone over the line. If you want to ask questions, ask questions. I put forward a model. But a little bit of respect.

O.K. Let me ask you this question. All my questions are asked with respect.

That’s not the way I hear it.

Caught in his mistakes, Epstein’s increasingly confrontational behavior led to his reversal of opinions, some of them written in his columns, and his insistence that his “skill of cross examination” as a lawyer qualified him to interrogate the evidence and substitute his own judgment for that of experts in the field.

Epstein wrote:

 “Our government fiats will probably save very few, if any, lives saved over what we can obtain through more focused voluntary precautions.”

According to data, including a map, enforced stay-at-home mandates and restaurant closures are contributing to rapid reductions in the number of people with fevers. Over half the U.S. population in 30 states, the most recent order today, are told to stay at home. After watching the trend, DDT extended this recommendation until April 30. One exception to the reductions was in New Mexico, where the state order was made only the day before the most recent data, and adjacent counties in Colorado. The other area were parishes surrounding New Orleans, infections possibly caused by the Mardi Gras infection spread.

Graphs following fevers and restrictions show that voluntary compliance doesn’t affect the number of people with fevers. The turning point for improvement in Manhattan came on March 16 when schools were closed. The next day bar and restaurants were closed, and the stay-at-home took effect four days later. Tracking also showed the soaring fever levels during Florida’s spring break. Although the state’s governor Ron DiSantis finally closed the beaches, he still has issued no stay-at-home orders and banned a reporter at his press briefings because she asked for social distancing. School closing did no good, but bars and restaurants closures caused the number of fevers to drop. By now, however, COVID-19 cases are rapidly increasing in the state. The dropping numbers of fevers won’t take effect in hospitalizations, however, for days.

Twenty GOP governors still refuse to enforce even social distancing, and Mississippi’s governor has prevented cities from taking any action against the virus increase. They, too, have probably been reading Richard Epstein. The conservative National Inquirer promotes fake cures, and The Federalist published a column by a retired dermatologist advocating coronavirus parties to intentionally contract the disease like people did with chicken pox. Ann Coulter shared this chart showing the virus to be deadlier than the flu but claimed that it proves the opposite. 

Epstein claimed he was applying “standard Darwinian economics … to this particular case.”

Epstein, DDT, and most of DDT’s appointments suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect, their illusion of superiority because they cannot assess their own lack of ability. According to social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, people of low ability believe they are superior whereas those of high ability evaluate their abilities far lower than they are. In 2011, Dunning wrote: “In short, those who are incompetent, for lack of a better term, should have little insight into their incompetence—an assertion that has come to be known as the Dunning–Kruger effect.”

In 2014, Dunning and Helzer described how the Dunning–Kruger effect “suggests that poor performers are not in a position to recognize the shortcomings in their performance.” They call the effect a “dual burden.” People are not only incompetent, but their incompetence also takes their mental ability to realize how incompetent they are. They simply overestimate their own skill levels.

DDT is a textbook case.

Today, March 30, 2020, 37,815 people have died from 785,777 confirmed COVID-19 cases around the world. The number will probably double tomorrow from the 400,000+ on March 24. In the U.S. 3,165 people have died of COVID-19 in one month. The U.S. is still #1 in the world with 164,253 confirmed cases.

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